In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Reflection 1962/Written 2015
“Paddy, close that bleedin’ window; it’s like bleedin’ Siberia in here.”
I glanced at my companion in the driver’s seat in the Police car. “I’ll close the window when you stop smoking that bloody camel dung. It’s more like a Chinese brothel in this bloody car. ”
Mac grinned at me, an action which gave his face a sly Bill Fagin like appearance, although his fingers continued rolling the Old Holborn. “What would a good Catholic boy like you know about them?” He looked over his shoulder, addressing the sprawling, inert figure on the back seat. “You don’t object to a bit of cigarette smoke, do you, Hanz”
“Leave Bill out of it; he’s asleep.”
Bill grunted. “How can a man sleep when you pair of bastards keep mithering on? And I’m not asleep, just resting my eyes.”
It was 1962, in the dear, long gone, days before political correctness and anti smoking legislation, and when the Metropolitan Police were interested in fighting crime and not simply seeking easy options with speed cameras, and before they were told they were all ‘institutionally racist.’
The radio chattered into life, and Mac reached across to turn up the volume.
“Oy! Leave it alone. You drive the car and I’ll operate the set.”
Macdonald shrugged. “Well, you turn it up them.”
“I can hear it OK.” But I turned up the sound anyway.
The r/t operator on the Wanstead car was burbling on about chasing a silver Jaguar Mark 2, 3.8 litre.
“He can forget that,” grunted Mac, “he wouldn’t get within a mile of a Jag.”
“He was close enough to see it was a 3.8” ventured Bill from the back seat.
We listened; the windows of the Wolseley rolled up to keep out the February night, and to contain the commentary within our own private world. “Let’s go in that direction, Mac.”
Mac was scornful. “Naw, he’s out in the sticks.”
“OK, but he’s heading our way. Let’s go and have a look. It isn’t our petrol.”
Mac grunted. “All right.” He shifted in his seat, and started the engine. We had a Series three 6/90, with manual change, reputedly the quickest model in the fleet.
We were an ill-assorted trio, the crew of Juliet One, the Hackney area car. James Macdonald, about forty years of age; ex Argyll and Sutherland Highlander, captured on Crete in 1941 and a German POW for four long years. At the age of sixteen, on 2nd September 1939, Mac had lied about his age and joined the British Army. On 2nd September 1939 the British Army were not making many detailed enquiries and the East End born son of a Scot became the only Macdonald in a Campbell regiment.
‘Hanz’ Wilhelm Fischer, British born child of an English mother and German father was a tortured young man of 23. His father had been interned for part of the war, something that still rankled with Hans, as did Mac‘s studied habit of calling him ‘Hanz’, and his constant retelling of POW stories.
Then there was me, a Northern Irish Catholic who had deeply disappointed his mother by rejecting the priesthood in favour of girls. Of course, today you could have both. I had also disappointed my Nationalist, Republican father by looking back to the French, Protestant roots of my grandfather rather than Dad’s viewpoint. Poor man, he didn’t know it then but worse would follow in 1966 when I accepted the Queen’s commission.
An odd group, then, who wended their way eastwards in the darkened streets of London.
“He’s heading towards Stratford.”
“Yeah, he is.” Mac put his foot down and the Wolseley sped through Leyton and Leytonstone. The Wanstead car got dropped and the Woodford car also trailed behind the Jaguar, which had not yet been reported stolen, but which was occupied, by, as Juliet Four reported, ‘three little towrags.’
“MP, MP to all cars on three District. Change to channel three on this chase. All other cars stay on Channel One.” ‘Canada’ was the duty radio controller at the Yard, a serviceman who stayed on in 1945, and whose calm gentle tones were well known to thousands of Metropolitan Police officers. I changed to channel three.
K and H Division cars joined in, arriving from different parts of the East End. We approached Stratford High Street, and there it was, suddenly, gut wrenchingly, a silver Jaguar crossing our front, not fifty yards away. It was moving at great speed.
“MP, MP from Juliet One. We are behind him, Stratford High Street towards Stratford Church and Bow.”
Canada was easy. “Talk to us Juliet One, you have the air.”
I described the chase. He was quick. I let up the transmit button. “What are we doing Mac?”
I spoke into the mike. “He’s doing a hundred and twenty or a hundred and thirty. He’s leaving us for dead.”
Another car came in. “Hotel three here. We have closed the road to traffic. Do you want us to block the road with our car?”
Mac grunted. “Tell him to keep out of the bastard’s way. He’s mad. He’s going to lose it in a minute.”
“What about you?” I asked, hanging on for dear life in those pre seat belt times.
“I’m a grown up man. He’s a spotty kid. He will lose her”
He did. As we approached the railway bridge, the Jaguar began to snake sideways across the road. The brake lights had gone on. The Jaguar hit the metal central island of the bridge with its offside, and, almost it seemed in slow motion, turned over and over and over. A great cloud of debris enveloped the car like a shroud, and the broken glass from the windscreen hung in the night air, sparkling like a shower of diamonds in the streetlights.
“MP. MP, he’s crashed. Overturned, Stratford High Street at the railway bridge. I think we will need an ambulance.”
”Roger that, Juliet One, ambulance called.”
We screeched to a halt, the Wolseley juddering in protest as Mac pulled up just behind the Jaguar, laying on its roof, all four doors open, and smoke rising from the engine compartment.
“Thanks, Canada, we’re leaving the car. Juliet One, out.”
The driver was crushed, upside down, between the front seat and steering wheel. There was blood everywhere, and I could not detect any pulse. I thought he was dead. Mac, on the other side of the car was examining the other front seat passenger, who was half in, half out of the car. “A deadun here, Paddy.”
I ran back to the third man lying face down about ten yards away from the still hissing, smoking Jaguar. I turned him over and recoiled in horror. His face was gone, replaced by a bloody pulp, through which he noisily bubbled, trying to say something, and spraying me with blood. Beside me an H Division officer knelt. “Another goner, then?”
“Looks that way, doesn’t it?”
“High price to pay for a little bit of TDA.”
The ambulance arrived, bell clanging, blue light blinking. The two men in the car were extricated, and all three loaded into the ambulance.
“Where are you taking them?” I asked.
“Whipps Cross, mate”
We tidied up and had the dead Jaguar removed. It was almost an hour before we were ready to leave.
“Have you seen Bill?” I enquired of Mac.
“No, not since we arrived.”
There was no sign of Bill. We went back on air and drove back to the nick. “I guess Bill couldn’t handle it.”
Mac was succinct. “Bill is an arsehole.”
“You do treat him pretty badly, Mac.”
Mac pulled over the car, and switched off the engine. “Look, Paddy”
“Ben,” I interupted. “My name is Ben.”
He looked at me. “Fair enough, Ben. Any stick I give Bill he will get ten times worse on the street. If he can’t handle that, he shouldn’t be in the damm job. I have an eleven-year-old son, Jim. He is brain damaged. What will happen to him when his mother and I die? I still do my job. Now you did all right back there. You have the makings of a good copper, but you need to make up your mind. Do you want to be a copper or a social worker? We have millions of those bastards, and none of them is worth a damm. Make up your mind.” He started the car again. “There will be a coroner’s inquest. They will need a witness. Will you go?”
I nodded. “Sure.”
That was a long time ago. Looking back I understand that Mac was right, but I knew that at the time anyway.
Mac’s son died at the age of eighteen. Mac did his thirty years, and drank himself to death at the age of 57. Bill ended up in a mental hospital at Banstead, and was kicked out of the Police. And me, well I was a witness.
Written by my Father B.M